The large increase in market share achieved by digital companies in everything from shopping to entertainment, gambling, and communications under the lockdown will not rise so quickly from here. But these companies will keep many of their new customers. Working from home, the use of laptops, pads and smartphones, online shopping, home entertainment will all play even bigger roles in our lives than they already do.

Adapting to Change
As a species we have survived by being able to adapt to change. 2020 has proven our collective adaptability. Working from home, digital meetings with Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, and a host of others proved how resilient we all are. We were at the start of the pandemic all turned on about the excitement of change and doing something to overcome the obstacles.

The gambling sector is one of the most adaptable on the planet. Companies that were internet only did so well despite sports betting being cancelled. The real winners were poker and casino. The first lesson? Without an internet solution to your business, you are not going to survive. The second lesson was the speed of the bounce back when sports betting resumed, there is significant pent-up demand to be released once this pandemic is over.

Digital meetings are fine, but after a while they become sterile. You miss the interaction between people, during, before, and after a meeting, where ideas are bounced for one to another. I fear innovation may suffer if this continues or becomes the new norm. Companies may save on rent and rates but will lose out on creativity and thus revenue. Working from home happened by accident, working from offices was part of a tried and trusted formula that worked for decades.

Public Health Trumps Tax

The big lesson for me in 2020 was that public health trumps the economy. In the gambling industry, I have always known this, but listening to televised interviews few businessmen outside gambling seem to know it.

If you need confirmation the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, when returning to cabinet after his near-death experience with COVID quoted Cicero the Roman statesman. He said, “The health or welfare of the people should be the supreme law.”

The betting industry would do well to remember that. Arguments in this age on the tax governments would lose against the welfare of gamblers is somewhat futile when health trumps tax all day long.

Politicians the world over struggle with the legalisation of gambling, and the path to legitimise gambling is tortuous. The arguments that swing it toward legalisation are the ones that will cause more protection for the gambler, in terms of security in payments, traceability for problem gamblers, and keeping crime out of gambling. When you have satisfied all that, the throw away at the end of the presentation is, oh, and by the way Mr Government, you will raise some money in taxes.

Inevitability of Regulation

Sundar Pichai is the CEO of Google, in a thought-provoking article on regulation the FT said that like it or not, for Google, government intervention is now an inescapable fact of life. Faced with the inevitable, Mr Pichai’s strategy is clear: to publicly welcome new forms of regulation, while at the same time trying to head off its most onerous effects. The tactic is evident from his response to Europe’s proposal last week for a new Digital Services Act which would put more responsibility on the most powerful tech companies to police their platforms.

A policy that will no doubt serve the gambling industry equally as well in 2021 with the forthcoming Gambling Act Review. To be fair gambling UK has so far embraced the new norm. We no longer live in the Thatcher 1980s where personal responsibility, taking control of your own lives was the doctrine.

By Warwick Bartlett